California plan seeks to reduce dairy costs by pooling monitoring efforts.
Hoping to save more than $50 million in water-quality compliance costs, a group of Central California dairy producers has formed a groundwater monitoring coalition.
The Central Valley Dairy Representative Monitoring Program (CVDRMP) aims to target specific dairy areas—rather than every dairy—to ensure dairies are meeting the region’s waste discharge requirements.
Central Valley dairy producers “have taken the initiative to work together” on water-quality requirements, says Tom Barcellos, CVDRMP chairman and Tipton, Calif., dairy producer. “This sets the tone for where we go from here.”
Groundwater monitoring wells are necessary to comply with the water-quality regulations California adopted in 2007. Under the order, existing dairies must install wells, at their own expense, exclusively for monitoring first-encountered groundwater. Dairies must also draw and analyze samples and submit reports on the results.
“The cost of installing these wells could be quite high,” Barcellos says, “more than $40,000 per dairy plus sampling and reporting costs.” He forecasts across-the-board costs to the Central Valley dairy industry of $64 million. The new program would bring that closer to $7 million.
Under the program, dairies would share costs instead of installing their own wells and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars annually for sampling and reporting.
The coalition believes that since all Central Valley dairies already employ water-quality protection measures such as nutrient management and waste management plans, groundwater monitoring wells on every dairy aren’t necessary. CVDRMP wants to develop monitoring efforts within a network of sites. First on its list is the Hilmar area in the northern Central Valley, home to many dairies and shallow groundwater levels.
“The water board considers this area to be one of the most sensitive,” Barcellos says. “If immediate groundwater problems are detected there, we will know to expand our efforts.”
To be viable, the coalition needs participation from 60% of the nearly 1,300 dairies subject to the general order that don’t already have groundwater monitoring wells.
“The alternative to participating in this program,” Barcellos says, “is to stay under the general order, ensuring that you will have monitoring wells on your property in the next few years.”
The program is awaiting approval by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. A public review and comment period will also be required.
“We’re supportive of the coalition’s efforts to determine which management practices at dairies are protective of groundwater quality under different conditions and to do this as efficiently as possible,” says Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer in the regional board’s Fresno office.
The program will be funded by group members through a milk-check deduction. The initial membership fee is $500, with an estimated monthly fee of $81 per dairy. A board of nine Central Valley dairy operators will oversee the program. The deadline to sign up is Dec. 27, 2010.